“We thought we were joining a vegetarian church”

Joyce KinmontBy: Joyce Kinmont

My husband and I joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1964, in our early twenties. We were the standard, clueless products of the 50′s and 60’s. Neither of us had any religious background, although we would later find out that my husband had early Mormon ancestors from Denmark who came by ship and train to Salt Lake. I’m sure they reached through the veil and stirred up the events that brought us into the gospel net.

The day the missionaries taught us about the Word of Wisdom, my husband handed them his cigarettes. They left us a pamphlet to read about Section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants of the Church, which defines a healthy diet. In it the Lord says, “it is pleasing unto me that they [animals] should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine” (v. 13). We took the words at face value. We thought we were joining a vegetarian church. Well, OK, we thought we can do that. Living in warm, famine-free Southern California, we assumed these folks would not be eating much meat. Naively, we went happily off to our first church social, a ham dinner!

We had a testimony that the Church was the Lord’s authorized organization on earth and were soon baptized, but we wondered why the behavior of the Saints did not match the doctrine. I continued to watch for information from the prophets about diet. I found much support from early Church leaders as I searched the Journal of Discourses and read Elder Widtsoe’s book, The Word of Wisdom: A Modern Interpretation, which I learned had been used as the priesthood lesson manual one year. Apparently it had made little impact on the brethren. It seemed to me that the latter-day prophets had tried to lead out but no one was following.

My husband and I loved the Lord and His church, and we wanted to please Him by not using meat (D&C 89:13), but we soon found that “pleasing Him” did not please others or make us popular. Sometimes it was a lonely road. At one point of frustration I wrote a list of the reasons why we didn’t eat meat. I mimeographed it (yes, it was that long ago) and handed it out whenever I could.

I wondered why more wasn’t said in current Conference messages; then one day I was in the Church Office Building and I saw a matronly lady, someone’s secretary no doubt, walking through the offices with a huge chocolate sheet cake. I had worked in an office; we celebrated everything! It hit me forcefully: the prophets can declare doctrine, but they really can’t fight against the will of the people. As Brigham Young said:

Take people in every capacity of life, and their wills are first and foremost. You can gain and lead the affections of the people, but you cannot scare them, nor whip them, nor burn them to do right against their wills. The human family will die to gratify their wills. (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, p. 203)

From time to time we did find other Church members who believed as we did, but together we could hardly call ourselves a growing movement. We continued to follow the Lord’s “sparingly” request at various levels of commitment as we raised our children. When we were asked why we didn’t eat meat we said, “We do eat meat—in times of famine and at church socials.” (That was the last reason on our old mimeographed list; the rest were mainly scientific.)

For our little bit of obedience we were blessed with good health for ourselves and our family. There were no major illnesses, no major medical bills.

I wish I could say that we continued to study nutrition and improved our diet well beyond what was given in the Word of Wisdom. We didn’t. We kept sweets to a moderate level and didn’t fry foods, but oh, how I loved the ice cream and cheese. It never occurred to me that milk is not a plant! There were plenty of warning voices out there, but we took license from the fact that dairy isn’t mentioned in the D&C and that nothing was being said about it from Salt Lake.

All my adult life I had semi-annual bouts of respiratory illness – strep, bronchitis, etc. One of those “minor” illnesses cost me the privilege of attending the temple with a daughter to take out her endowments, and I was not much better a few days later for her wedding. In fact my sister-in-law said that when she arrived from out-of-state she thought I was dying. I was seriously overweight and my energy was low. I was in my mid 50s, and I knew I was headed for trouble.

Then someone mentioned that a man was teaching about the Word of Wisdom at a local library. I went to hear him, and he changed my life. On Easter Sunday, 1996, I invited him to our home to speak to some friends and family, and he taught us the scientific differences between plant foods and animal foods. Our married children were not interested, except for one daughter-in-law, bless her heart, and she and her husband joined us in a new vegan diet, as did our three younger daughters who were still at home. Millie, the oldest of the three, loved to cook. (As a non-cook, I prefer to fix nothing with more than three ingredients.)

Over the years Millie developed recipes that would taste good to the non-vegans in the family. She and her two younger sisters are now raising vegan children, and their spouses eat vegan, mostly. At this point the majority of our adult posterity is either vegan or they know they should be!

After nearly twenty years without cheese and bacon, do I feel deprived? Not at all. We eat simply, so we save money on groceries. When we party, we eat vegan treats. Life is good. I feel free. I feel light. I feel happy. I feel grateful. I feel blessed.

Am I healthier? Yes. Once I stopped eating all animal foods, my respiratory problems lessened right away and then completely disappeared. For years I still over-ate and used a lot of olive oil, but I made improvements, and I am finally thinner. My veins are clear and my heart is strong, “appropriate for my age.” At 73, I have more energy than I did at 50.

My husband and I know plenty of meat eaters who are more healthy than we are, and we know that we may not end our lives without illness; but we also know that eating better than we used to has given us better heath than we previously had. As a result we have been more useful to the Lord and to our family.

The promises are true. When I am in the Temple I like to run (delicately) up the stairs, just because I can. We have found “treasures of knowledge,” including some that seem “hidden.” And the “destroying angel” has passed us by, at least for now. What more could we ask?

Joyce Kinmont is 73 years old and lives in Syracuse, Utah. She and her husband, Dick, have two sons and six daughters, all with wonderful spouses, and they have 33 grandchildren. The Kinmonts were pioneers in the homeschool movement, beginning in 1975. Joyce is the founder of the LDS Home Education Association and author of Diet Decisions for Latter-day Saints. She loves sharing information about the Plant Food Diet and about homeschooling, but she treasures most the learning and the good times with her family.


  1. Joyce published her book, Diet Decisions for Latter-day Saints, in 1999. It is one of the few books on the Word of Wisdom that promotes a fully plant-based diet. I love the powerful witness Joyce shares of the Word of Wisdom in her book and her story and consider her one of the Word of Wisdom pioneers of our generation.

    Joyce is also one of the all-time most influential Latter-day Saint homeschool pioneers. I’ve known and admired Joyce since the early 1990’s, but I didn’t realize she was vegetarian until I was working on my own book about the Word of Wisdom. It has been wonderful to renew our acquaintance. Joyce has been so supportive of my work, and I honor her for her complete devotion to God and a long life of selfless service to so many!

    Thanks for sharing your awesome story, Joyce!

  2. Joyce,

    I love the statement in your book that Jane excerpted:

    “The whole argument over whether or not we who are LDS “may” eat meat is a distraction, like a silly cartoon in which we are running full speed down the road but the fox keeps putting up detour signs to send us around in circles. The real issues are that (a) the Lord has given us an energy force packaged in fresh fruits and vegetables and stored in grains and seeds, and we have not appreciated it; (b) we must overcome our venomous disposition, and (c) obedience.

    “Here’s where I stand: There is an animal food diet and there is a plant food diet, like two parallel paths. In our culture, almost all of us are on the animal food path. We are told that the Millennial diet will be fruit, and by happy coincidence, the plant diet given in the Word of Wisdom leads us right to the Millennial diet.

    “I’m switching over to the plant food road now. I am fortunate to be able to—the information has been brought to my attention, the food is available in my area and my century, my family is supportive, and my life’s calling makes it possible. To eat in a way that brings me better health is good; if that change takes me to where the Lord will someday want me to be, that is an added blessing.”

    I’m going to share this statement with family–maybe it will help them understand the changes we are making in our food choices. Thanks for your story.

    • I agree that vegetables, grains and fruits are the best diet. However God has children in all environments throughout the world, and their diets are far from animal free. Are they violating the word of wisdom, because they can’t grow or receive vegetables?

      • Ryan: Great question! The Lord tells us in D&C 89 that He ordained meat for our use, so that contradicts the idea that it should never be used. He does ask us to use it sparingly and tells us it is pleasing to Him if we do not use it, except in times of need (winter, cold, famine). I do believe there are people in the past and now in some areas of the world where meat was/is needed to sustain life. But even in our country where we clearly have plenty without using meat, it is not a commandment to abstain from meat. This is a decision the Lord allows us to make, if we desire the blessings. You may be interested in this essay, Two Meanings of “Word of Wisdom.” Thanks again for your interest and great question!

  3. I just returned from shopping at a store (Macey’s located at the very North end of Sandy, Utah where I always know I can find packages of grains that not everybody uses, such as Lentils which is the grain I needed.) The Wal Mart store we regularly shop at doesn’t persistently do a good job of keeping grains available that I use in my Word of Wisdom Diet.

    Besides those Lentils I bought some raw corn cobs I was allowed to husk right there in the store where I bought the Lentils, (which I’m also allowed to at the Wal Mart Store where we also shop.) I also stopped at the Good Earth Store which is just down the hill from the Macey’s Store. That which I bought there were some packages of Lundberg Brown Rice Cakes which my daughter, Jane has recommended to me. Those Rice Cakes are filled with vitamins and whole grains. On the package it says, “Organic Rice Cakes and also “Salt Free.”

    After I finish my reply to Joyce Kinmont’s very helpful comments given above I’ll possibly have time to cook most of the Lentils I was able to buy earlier this evening. After being properly cooked they will go into a large plastic container whose label says: “Frozen Lentils.” and then will be stored in our backroom freezer from where I can retrieve them when I need to replenish my supply of Lentils I keep in our main refrigerator along with other large containers filled with other grains I use in my daily meals.

    Now!! Thank You very very much Joyce for what you told us above! I am pleased to now quote something which I copied from that which you submitted:

    “We had a testimony that the Church was the Lord’s authorized organization on earth and were soon baptized, but we wondered why the behavior of the Saints did not match the doctrine. I continued to watch for information from the prophets about diet. I found much support from early Church leaders as I searched the Journal of Discourses and read Elder Widtsoe’s book, The Word of Wisdom: A Modern Interpretation, which I learned had been used as the priesthood lesson manual one year.”

    On behalf of the very many people who regularly read that which my daughter Jane publishes, I thank you Joyce for your great persistence in eating as you know you should eat thanks to your obviously intimate acquaintance with verses 10 through 21 of Section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants. May the Lord continue to bless you, your husband and the rest of your family and all of the rest of us who have had the privilege of reading that which you submitted to Jane.

    Neil Birch

  4. Joyce – you are just delightful. And so funny! You have truly inspired me with your attitude, and your courage. I really enjoyed reading about your experiences. Thank you for taking the time to share them with us.

  5. You look terrific, Joyce! I certainly would not have guessed you are 73! One of the many blessings of living the Word of Wisdom in its totality! Thank you for sharing your story!

  6. I heard you speak at a homeschool convention years ago in Bellevue, Washington. Thanks for all you do, Joyce. Glad to see we’re in a similar camp here, too. I stopped eating animals, because the Lord and many doctors tell me it is better for my health. However, the more I know about the treatment of animals; the more sympathetic I get with abused factory farm animals.

    I have some of my grands (6 & 9) this month. They love eating toast, oats, or potatoes along with a green smoothie for breakfast each morning. They love learning to cook plant based meals. Children can be competent and confident in the kitchen much younger than people usually allow. They are also very accepting of the reasons for my plant based choices.

  7. I have been an ignorant mocker of vegans as long as I can remember, calling it ‘the hippie diet, extreme fundamentalism’, etc.

    I am 45 years old and have 7 children, 22 down to 2. I have not been able to regain the energy I had 10 years ago, and have pleaded with Heavenly Father to help me so I can be an effective mother and teacher to our children. After fasting and praying, I received the email from Joyce with this post. It was as lightening to my brain and soul, ‘this is what you need to do!’.

    I am so very grateful for all who have paved the way and listened to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Yes, it is not a commandment but I believe a higher and celestial law to help us overcome the natural man and become closer to God. I have just begun (my book arrived today). Greek yogurt, chocolate and delicious European cheese will be hard to give up, but I have already felt the blessings of starting on this path. I am the only one in my family who is doing it, but I am so motivated and I know this is the way for me.

    Thank you!

    • Michelle: I love your email on so many levels. Thanks for your example of humility. It is hard to give up old practices and beliefs, but it is obvious you value your health and the word of the Lord more than clinging to the prejudice of the culture. Most of us eating this Word of Wisdom diet felt much like you not very long ago, so we can relate! This has been a glorious adventure for me and for so many others. I hope you’ll experience the same. I’m more than happy to help you along the way. Please contact me if there is anything I can do to help!

  8. Michelle, when my elderly Dad informed us about ten years ago that he was giving up dairy and all animal products after reading The China Study, I thought he had taken it to the extreme. I had also read the book and was almost convinced, but not enough to take that drastic step. In the three months or so that my wife, our 41 year old Down Syndrome daughter and I have been WFPB we have seen nothing but positive results–energy, weight loss, spiritual well being, and enthusiasm and commitment for the future. Others in the family are slowly gravitating our way. We wish you success and health!

  9. Joyce, thank you very much for your powerful and authentic story.

    I do have a question concerning this part of it: “Elder Widtsoe’s book, The Word of Wisdom: A Modern Interpretation, which I learned had been used as the priesthood lesson manual one year.” Do you happen to know when the book was used as a priesthood manual? Is there anybody you know of who could share more about this?

    Thank you! And all the best!

  10. Hi. Thanks for the story. I heard you speak at a homeschool conference in WA state years ago. Thanks for that, AND for this inspiring article. I’ll see you at your 100th birthday party. You’ll recognize me is the short, skinny vegan woman with the big smile. Have a happy rest of your life.

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